This past weekend was Anime Weekend Atlanta. For those of you who have never heard of it, please allow me to introduce you to the con that initiated me into geekhood. I went to my first AWA when I was in the eighth grade. That year I only went for about a day, but the second I saw all of the costumes, I instantly fell in love with cosplay. Already I was a kid reluctant to give up on Halloween and in love with anime, so it seemed like a perfect fit.
Of course, this was years ago, back in the day before you could just order a costume online. So, I remember teaching myself all sorts of crafts and tricks, scouring clothing and thrift stores, asking friend’s moms to sew outfits for me: anything I could do to make that perfect costume (later, in my college days, I would take an intensive sewing and pattern making class to learn to sew and take a part-time job at Hancock Fabrics as much for the employee discount as for the money). In all of that time, this con remained my main cosplay event.
I started attending other cons, but I still always went all the way back from college in Virginia to Atlanta in September just to go to AWA. And why? Because AWA is still the most fun I’ve ever had at an anime con. The only thing that stopped me from going was living in Japan itself. During my time in Japan, I, somewhat ironically, grew away from anime and more into Star Wars and American comics. I wouldn’t say that I soured on anime or was over exposed, I still love many anime series, even ones I’ve started watching recently, such as Berserk. But I think that my love for cosplay attracted me more to media with older characters as I entered my late 20’s. But even though I’d just gotten back from Japan, and knew I already had all of the anime merchandise I could ever want and had no cosplay ready, I still wanted to go back to my beloved AWA for at least a day.
AWA has actually grown quite a bit in the last three years, the con was much larger than I remember it, but it was still the same fun, energetic atmosphere I remembered and love. In contrast to Dragon Con, Atlanta’s more famous convention, AWA is actually enjoyable. It’s well organized and in a centralized location. I know that Dragon Con is huge and there’s no good space for it, but that doesn’t make the crowds, sudden cancellations and confusing schedules any less obnoxious.
AWA also feels more like a social event than Dragon Con. In spite of the larger crowds, you feel like everyone there is part of a community of anime fans. People are open and personable, and the con has capitalized on that environment to arrange a series of social events, most famously the AWA dance which often features famous Japanese DJs who rarely make US appearances.
There’s actually a decent amount for non-anime fans too, DC and Marvel comics always have a heavy presence, and I was able to leave the con with my usual bag of Star Wars swag, but this con is very much about anime and Japanese culture. All of the panels and other events are geared toward anime and Japan, and I think that’s great. I also think the quality of cosplay at AWA is significantly above average for conventions, so if you’re a cosplay fan or cosplayer, you’ll enjoy this con. Personally, though, for me the Dealers Room is maybe the best part of AWA. It’s a huge room, with an incorporated Artists’ Ally. You’ll also find anime goods there that you really can’t easily find even on ebay and other websites. After living in Japan, I did sometimes balk at the prices of used figures, but short of actually going to Japan and scavenging second-hand stores you’re probably not going to get much better deals on anime figures than you do at this con, assuming you go to the right stands.
To any anime or cosplay fan or lover of Japanese popular culture in the Southeast, this con is a definite must. It has a big con level Dealers’ Room, but still maintains a small con social environment, making AWA the best of both worlds.
Rating: 5 Stars